I used to just listen to my aches and pains and take a nap when I felt tired. I recently realised that I now get far more information from my body than I would ever have thought possible. You know that feeling when you smell or even hear something horrible and your stomach turns? Or when you see something beautiful and your chest swells? Your body is reacting to external stimuli.
You can experiment: Take a few moments to think of pollution filling your lungs as you breathe and notice the subtle reaction of your body. Maybe you felt like holding your breath, or like you had a bad taste in your mouth, or a tightness in your chest. Now imagine receiving a wonderful long massage. What did your body say to that idea? Maybe you felt yourself relax and become more open, maybe you closed your eyes or breathed more deeply.
Obviously a massage is better for you than breathing in pollution, but you can also see what your body says when you are feeling indecisive.
"Should I have another drink?" You might assume you want one, but if you take a moment and pay close attention to your body’s reaction to this idea, you might get another perspective. When I have just eaten a delicious meal at home, in my mind I definitely want a second helping, but when I tune in to my body I usually find that my stomach has had as much as it can handle and to eat more would actually be a strain. My body says no. If you find yourself craving a cigarette after a few drinks, just stop for a moment and notice, does your body accept this proposal or were you just about to override it’s wishes - it’s cries drowned out by your thoughts and compulsions? How many times have you had another cup of coffee and only afterwards when you're shaking, did you realise that you REALLY didn't need it?
We assume that our cravings come from our body, but you might be surprised that what your body says is different to what your mind is really trying to tell you.
So pay attention to your breathing, your heart rate, the tension in your shoulders, whether your hands clench or open. The key here is to accept the first answer you get from your body, don’t try to manipulate or rationalise it. And don’t worry, you can always still go with what your mind wants – at least you’ll be making an informed decision!
So why do you have cravings if your physical body doesn't actually want anything? There are many reasons, but commonly it's our anxiety telling us that we need some support. We feel like we're lacking something inside and the easiest way to 'fill the hole' is by consuming something on a physical level (sex, alcohol, chocolate, shopping). Obviously this is only a temporary fix and figuring out what's behind it takes some time and effort. Start by noticing your cravings and try to pinpoint what thought you were having immediately before the craving hit, or look at the situation you're in and find what may be triggering the feeling that you're not enough. You'll quickly find a pattern. Then just let yourself experience the anxiety rather than covering it up by consuming something, even just for a minute. The better you get to know this feeling (either on your own or in therapy), the less powerful it will become. You don't have to fight it, just keep experiencing it and it will slowly let go of you.
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Laura is a Gestalt counsellor and psychotherapist in Melbourne's inner North.